Monday, March 07, 2005

Exorcise your demons

This weekend we watched Exorcist: The Beginning. Although it's not a particularly good film, it made my adrenaline surge more so than any other rental in recent memory, which I attribute less to the filmmaking than to the subject matter — call it a guilty pleasure of mine.

The first Exorcist film is now a classic, though I don't think I've had the pleasure of watching it in its entirety and without commercial interruptions. It's one of those movies so much a part of our culture it's as if you've seen it, whether you have or not. I remember as a kid getting out of bed to get a drink of water downstairs and happening upon my mother and brother watching a movie on tv. The noises intrigued me; my mother told me not to look, but I did. I won't say the image haunted me — I didn't suffer nightmares — but it stuck with me. Years later I would identify the source of it as The Exorcist.

The film's website provides a little background on the phenomenon:
Throughout the Ritual, the priest frequently makes the sign of the cross and tries to draw the subject into the Ritual.

The demon is not considered exorcised until it tells the priest its name and its purpose. Once the demon leaves the subject, the subject is warned to guard themselves carefully and abstain from sin, to keep the demon from returning.

If you've never seen the movie, you may want to watch this 30-second reenactment by bunnies to get up to speed.

The real story behind the movie (and the fictionalized account on which the movie was based).

Why I would not make a very good exorcist:
All idle and curious questioning of the demon should be avoided, and the prayers and aspirations should be read with great faith, humility, and fervour, and with a consciousness of power and authority.

History of exorcism:
The use of protective means against the real, or supposed, molestations of evil spirits naturally follows from the belief in their existence, and is, and has been always, a feature of ethnic religions, savage and civilized. In this connection only two of the religions of antiquity, the Egyptian and Babylonian, call for notice; but it is no easy task, even in the case of these two, to isolate what bears strictly on our subject, from the mass of mere magic in which it is embedded. The Egyptians ascribed certain diseases and various other evils to demons, and believed in the efficacy of magical charms and incantations for banishing or dispelling them. The dead more particularly needed to be well fortified with magic in order to be able to accomplish in safely their perilous journey to the underworld (see Budge, Egyptian Magic, London, 1899).

Les Très Riches Heures du Duc de Berry. Posted by Hello

Procedure summarized.
The Rituale Romanum (about).

A more indepth guide with invocations. Remember:
Only legitimate priests who are spiritually sound should attempt an exorcism.
Devils are extremely powerful beings and can be harmful to the unqualified.

An exorcism was supposed to have been televised a couple weeks ago:
The TV exorcism will be performed by an Anglican priest while cutting-edge neuro-imaging technology monitors activity in the adult male subject's brain.

C4's Matthew Robinson dismissed accusations of bad taste and possible harmful effects. "There will be warnings before the show is broadcast and helpline numbers provided at the end," he said. He highlighted the programme's scientific elements and insisted the experiment was legitimate. "This is a unique scientific investigation of a much-misunderstood religious practice. Exorcism remains shrouded in mystery. It has always been considered off-limits as far as scientific investigation is concerned, like most apparently inexplicable religious phenomena. But the emergence of neuro theology is changing that."

This relatively new field of research examines what is happening inside the brain during religious experiences. Dr Peter Fenwick, a respected consultant neuropsychiatrist at Oxford University, will monitor the subject's brain activity on The Exorcism.

Despite its common perception as an outdated practice, exorcism, or deliverance as it is sometimes termed, has come to the fore again in recent weeks with the Vatican announcing a new course on Satanism and exorcism for priests. This is the first major statement on the matter by the Catholic Church since 1999, when it issued its first updated ritual for exorcism in almost 400 years, warning against mistaking mental illness for diabolical possession.

From the television program's website:
Could this mean then that religion too exists only inside our heads? Is spirituality simply another biological fact of existence, or has medical science found a way to mediate the tensions that have traditionally existed between the human body and the human soul? The two have, after all, been kept apart for centuries.

A history of the field of "neurotheology" is presented, citing examples of attempts to scientifically explain religious experiences, including voices and visions, as a "feverish interactivity between the right and left halves of our brain."

The recently announced course on Satanism is to feature practical lessons in psychology and law.

Father Giulio Savoldi, Milan's official exorcist
...did not have the benefit of training but is in no doubt about what he would include in any course for candidates to take on the task of fighting evil in the raw — and the qualities needed of any would-be exorcist.

"I would include the supernatural force — the presence of God — and then suggest that the man picked to do this kind of work be wise and that he should know how to gather strength not just from within himself but from God," he says.

"Because each case of possession is different, each person possessed is different. Those studying to become exorcists should also study psychology and know how to distinguish between a mental illness and a possession.

"And — finally — they need to be very patient."

A recent book tells the story of two exorcisms conducted by the author, a psychiatrist:
Possession is a rare phenomenon and is related to evil, but possessed people are not actually evil; they are doing battle with the forces of evil. I am getting old and this is my last book and I felt I had an obligation to record these two cases in which I was involved. I felt it would be a sin to go to my grave leaving them untold and wanted them told as scientifically as possible.

A great many people in this world have character flaws. Yet very few of them become possessed. The best explanation that I have been able to come up with in the cases of possession I've seen is that they were somewhat holy people to begin with.

In another interview the author points out:
Genuine possession cases are quite rare, but there are a number of diseases — such as hemophilia — that are also rare, yet we study them to know why the blood clots. You answer a question in science and immediately you get 100 new questions. I have more questions about demons now.


Suzanne said...

Wow--this is fascinating stuff. Thanks for compiling all these links and quotes.

Sigh. I write a post about my daughter's hair, you write about exorcism. Compare and contrast, anyone?

Isabella said...

I think our daughters' hair is possessed by demons, and we're not qualified to liberate it.

Ann D said...

You are much braver than I am.

Ann D

Anonymous said...

The Angry Alien reenactments are hilarious.

As much as I love horror films, The Exorcist is the one movie I cannot watch. Creepy.


Karin said...

Amazingly, I have never seen The Exorcist although it came out around the time I was in high school, or maybe it was before but still popular then, I don't remember anymore. I have always had zero desire to see it. Still, it's interesting to see how it's impact has lasted.